The volume of adults prescriptions in the USA has risen, and so too have rates of poisonings in children who accidentally took adult prescription drugs, says a study published in the journal Pediatrics (June 3rd issue).

As background information, the authors, from Boston Children’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, San Diego State University and the University of Colorado, explained that accidental ingestion of prescription drugs (non-therapeutic medication ingestion) continues to be a serious pediatric health problem in the USA. Despite a number of health interventions, the number of pediatric poisonings has increased.

Nobody knew exactly how changes in adult prescription medication usage might influence the number of pediatric drug poisonings. The aim of this latest study was to determine whether there was a link between changes in adult prescription medication patterns and children’s exposure to drugs and poisonings. They also wanted to identify which were the high-risk age groups and medications.

The researchers gathered and examined data from the National Poison Data System and the National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys for 2000 through 2009.

They found that the most common drugs associated with children’s poisoning include those used to treat:

The most emergency visits were caused by the accidental ingestion of statins and beta blockers, while the most serious injuries and hospitalizations were caused by opioids and diabetes drugs.

Across all the drugs, the highest risk of poisoning was found among kids aged 5 years or less, followed by teenagers.

Specific strategies to prevent childhood medication poisonings that take into account certain age groups and types of drugs are urgently needed, the authors said.

In an abstract in the journal, the investigators concluded:

“Increasing adult drug prescriptions are strongly associated with rising pediatric exposures and poisonings, particularly for opioids and among children 0 to 5 years old. These associations have sizable impacts, including high rates of serious injury and health care use.”

A University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health in 2012 asked parents and grandparents of kids up to 5 years of age about where they stored their adult medications. The poll revealed that many grandparents store their prescription drugs within the reach of their grandkids.

Matthew M. Davis, M.D., M.A.P.P., director of the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, said “Every 10 minutes a young child in the U.S. is taken to the emergency room because of possible poisoning from swallowing a prescription medicine or over-the-counter medicine.”

He added that the vast majority of adults support single-dose packaging to avoid accidental poisoning.

There are more emergency hospital visits from pediatric unintentional poisonings than car accidents in the USA each year.

Following the modification of drug enforcement laws regarding the possession of marijuana, more children in Colorado are ending up in hospital emergency departments after accidentally ingesting marijuana, according to an article published in JAMA Pediatrics (May 2013 issue).

The researchers wrote “The proportion of ingestion visits in patients younger than 12 years (age range 8 months to 12 years) that were related to marijuana exposure increased after September 30, 2009, from 0 of 790 to 14 of 588. Eight of the 14 cases involved medical marijuana, and 7 of these exposures came from food products.”

Most of the emergency department patients were boys. The authors said it is important that parents/grandparents disclose their use of medical marijuana when seeking medical help.

Team leader, George Sam Wang, M.D., from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center, Denver, said “Similar to many accidental medicinal pediatric exposures, the source of the marijuana in most cases was the grandparents who may not have been available during data collection.”

Written by Christian Nordqvist